(Las Vegas) — This year, June 6, 2022, marks the 78th Anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. For the thousands who fought in it, and lived to tell the tale, along with the additional thousands who were liberated partially as a result of the invasion, D-Day will forever hold a spot in their memories.
Allied powers crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France to overtake the German army. Our side describes the event as being horrible, filled with carnage and untold deaths of our troops. The German side has its own haunting memories, agreeing that it was gruesome.
It declares “Fubar” in describing D-Day, slang for the word “Furchtbar" which means terrible or horrible. In America and in our WWII Allied nations, individuals strive to publicly cement those horrible memories to ensure they are not forgotten, and to avoid such things in the future. Tours of the battle areas are annual occurrences, and numerous anniversary events can be found globally.
In Nevada, various veterans’ organizations will host events to solidify the bravery as well as the darkness of the conflict. It’s not only to pay honors to those who were involved 78 years ago. It’s also because every week memories of D-Day, its sights and sounds and physical items often disappear. Fortunately, there are individuals and organizations who engage in activities to keep those memories from becoming dust in the wind.
D-Day turned the tide for Allies and eventually led to the liberation of prisoners in Axis concentration camps. Nevada resident Raymonde (Ray) FioI was three years old, living in France “when the Nazi’s invaded Poland.” When the Americans hit the beach shores and Paris was liberated, “At that time I was only eight years old,” she said. “I remember it well, even though I didn’t quite understand it. Because Paris was liberated August 23, and my birthday is August 22.” The closeness of the date of her birthday helped her to recall some vivid details.
She explained, “My parents were born in Poland and immigrated to Paris. After the Nazis invaded France, the Vichy government worked with the Germans and willingly did a census of foreign-born Jews living in France. The Germans were given the list. There was a raid, and we were held for several days with no food, no water, no sanitation. Then we were taken in cattle cars to Auschwitz concentration camp. But later my father was transferred to a war labor camp.”
Nazis and their horrible concentration camps aside, Fiol tells a little-known story about another German atrocity. “Everybody knows about concentration camps,” she said. “However, there were also hundreds of labor camps as well.” Fiol said Jewish people and others the Germans disliked were forced to work in those camps doing hard labor every day. At the height of the so-called “Ausländereinsatz” (use of foreigners) in August 1944, six million civilians were forced to perform forced labor in the German Reich. More than one third were women, some of whom were abducted together with their children or gave birth in the camps. From 1943, German industry increasingly used concentration camp detainees as a source of forced labor.
At one point, her father somehow managed to bring Fiol and his wife to the concentration camp in which he was located. She noted, “I was four or five years old and a Frenchman named, Gabrial Cailac, would regularly deliver supplies of fertilizer to the camp. The man was a member of the French resistance, and my father asked if he would take me and get me out of the camp. The Germans didn’t care nothing for children. I was worthless to them. The Frenchman got me out of the camp. He had a truck, with preferred treatment since he was a supplier. He would gather information for the French underground. His wife Sara had a cafe that served German soldiers, where she would also gather information for the French underground.”
The Cailac’s took her in. “I was Jewish, Sara was Protestant and very religious. But she wanted to save a life, and she did it.” Fiol attended Catholic school and went to church. The day soon came when she had to register with the local German government, pretending to be a niece of the Callacs. Every resident had to register, she said. But when she was asked her name, she forgot what to say and blurted out her real Jewish name, “Nathanson.” The German officer stood up and stared at her while placing his hand on the gun in his holster. After a few agonizing moments, he sat back down and completed the paperwork, and dismissed her. “He said I looked like his daughter. He was speaking German and I understood. But I didn’t reveal that I understood what he said.”
Her story contains more harrowing details, and ultimately in 1944 she would learn that her parents were put on a train to Auschwitz, where they perished. But in 1955 she was taken in by distant relatives who lived in London. She met an American G.I. and began a romance. They were married in 1957 and moved to New York, later moving to Florida and then to Nevada to be closer to their adult children who live in California. Married now for 65 years, the 85-year-old is proud to tell the story of her life and experiences during the years of WWII and beyond.
In Las Vegas, a Holocaust memorial plaza was recently dedicated at the King David cemetery. Fiol said, “I was impressed with the outcome and appreciative of those who accomplished it. It’s an excellent memorial.” Observers at the dedication said it is a powerful educational tool where visitors can learn about the timeline of events and see how the Holocaust evolved.
From D-Day in Europe to liberating German concentration camps to a Holocaust memorial in Las Vegas, individuals today are working to make sure the timeline of history will never be forgotten.